We hope you can join us on Wednesday, November 15th (4:30 pm, Swift Commons) for our practice SBL session. This year, we will hear papers on innovative approaches to the Dead Sea Scrolls, Second Isaiah, and the Song of Songs. Please see the following talk titles and descriptions:
Dr. Sarah Yardney, “Assessing Current Methods for Reconstructing Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls: A Quantitative Approach”:
Scholars reconstructing biblical Dead Sea Scrolls generally rely on one of two methods for estimating available space and testing options for reconstruction: a widely used older method, which uses character count; and a newer method, proposed by Edward Herbert, which calculates the average width of each character in a particular scribal hand and uses those averages. This paper will argue that although Herbert’s method is a modest improvement over the older approach, both fail to consistently predict how long a line of text will be with accuracy. Thus in many cases, neither method for estimating available space in a scroll is precise enough to allow scholars to assess potential reconstructions with confidence. This argument relies on a quantitative comparison between computer-aided measurements of photographed scrolls and estimates of line lengths produced by the two current scholarly methods.
Marshall Cunningham, “Isaiah 40:1–2: Divine Commissioning and a “Return” to Jerusalem”:
The plural imperatives that open Deutero-Isaiah’s speech to his Babylonian community in 40.1–2 have long challenged interpreters. Whom is the deity addressing through the prophet’s speech? Because ch. 40 constitutes the beginning of a new composition, Isa 40–48 (following Haran), the apparent lack of a clear addressee presents an interpretive crux for how the work as a whole should be understood. Both the translators of the LXX and the Targumin were troubled by this absence and so interpolated explicit addressees–priests and prophets, respectively–to remedy the problem. Against the standard interpretation, which problematically takes the members of the divine council as the addressees of these imperatives, I present a new reading that argues that the deity is in fact addressing the members of Deutero-Isaiah’s Babylonian community. Verses 1–2 serve to commission this community, identified throughout the composition as Jacob/Israel, to the role of royal herald, charged with announcing Yahweh’s victory over Babylon and his triumphant return to his capital city. This interpretation makes better sense of these verses’ immediate literary context–a royal procession from Babylonia to Judah–and the greater composition of which it is a part, as well as the prophet’s historical context. The new evidence from Al–Ya?udu suggests communities of displaced Judeans could find themselves quickly adapting to their new Babylonian surroundings. Members of these communities owned property and slaves, participated in local commerce with Judeans and non-Judeans alike, and conformed to Babylonian custom in social practices like marriage. This degree of economic, political, and social embeddedness helps to explain Deutero-Isaiah’s strong rhetorical efforts to persuade his audience to leave their homes in Babylonia throughout the composition. The commissioning in 40.1–2 therefore functions as an extraordinary motivator for an embedded audience; the deity tasks his people–addressed as ‘ammî in v. 1aß–not only with returning to Jerusalem; he also charges them to announce the good news of Yahweh’s victory and return to the fallen city.
Kelli Gardner, “Flowing with Milk and Honey: Body as Landscape in the Song of Songs”:
Throughout the Pentateuch, the land of Canaan, promised to Abraham’s descendants, is described as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” Despite the frequency of its use and the centrality of its referent, commentators have paid relatively little attention to this recurrent phrase, often dismissing it as merely a clichéd or hyperbolic metaphor. As a result, there has been very little consideration of this characterization’s metaphorical meaning and associations. In this paper, I will suggest that this ubiquitous characterization of the promised land is a metaphor that understands the land in terms of a fertile female body, a regular emitter of liquids throughout her childbearing years. While this fluidic physiological reality of the female body is depicted throughout the Hebrew Bible, it is in the poetic text of the Song of Songs that the details and delights of the female body are explicitly associated with milk and honey and repeatedly described as flowing and fragrant. Through a close examination of the metaphorical descriptions of the female body in the Song of Songs as liquid landscape (Song 4:12-16; 5:2-5) and fragrant foodscape (Song 4:10-11; 5:1; 7:3), this presentation will argue that the woman in the Song of Songs, who is herself figured as flowing with milk and honey, exemplifies and augments the metaphorical logic at work in the pentateuchal association between fertile female bodies and productive landscapes.