Blood and Dust In Tempe

I spent all day yesterday from 11:30 am to 5:00 pm at the Pacific Coast Regional meeting of The Society of Biblical Literature. What I mean is that I left home at 6:00 am and returned home at 11:30 pm and in between I had lunch and attended two afternoon sessions of a two-day meeting at Arizona State University in Tempe. Why I was unable to attend the whole shebang is a story of another day.
I did give a short presentation called “Blood and Dust: Listening for Sommer’s ‘Echo’ in Akkadian and Hebrew Texts.” I’ll have more to say about that later. But the presentation did not represent my first experience with blood and dust at Arizona State University. In the parking lot, I turned to someone who was also prepaying his parking fee at an adjacent machine to ask if he could direct me to the Social Sciences building. As I turned, I tripped over a curb and fell into an unpaved area skinning my elbow to the point that it bled rather profusely and getting myself covered with dust. Not a great way to start a conference.
While I attended the last section of Chris Heard’s Hebrew Bible sessions, the real trouble didn’t start until Brad E. Kelle’s “Neo-Assyrian Insights On Ancient Israel And The Hebrew Bible” session. Two elements stood out about this session. First, there were only ten or eleven people in attendance. Of these, five were on the program. This included Brad. One of the others was an associate of someone on the program. It was, after all, the last session of the conference but I had thought the catchy subject matter would bring out in the masses. Second, it wasn’t clear to me that any of the four presentations were really about things Neo-Assyrian. The presentations were short, supposedly 10 minutes max, with the focus on research directions. The goal – largely fulfilled, either despite or because of the small group – was to provide time for more than the usual amount of discussion.
Christopher Hays discussed and illustrated “New Online Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East.” Both Chris’ remarks and the larger discussion of various academic and economical constraints on the pace of the development of online resources were abnormally interesting if a little discouraging. It seems that for good reasons (or should I say “bad reasons”), only a few, long tenured, full professors and some graduated students are willing to even consider involvement in many online publication projects.
Michael S. Moore’s presentation, “Wealth Watch: Intertextual Analysis of the Joseph Novella (Gen 37-47) alongside Gilgamesh and Atrahasis” lacked any noticeable Neo-Assyrian element. He made it a point that by Gilgamesh he was referring to the Standard Babylonian (SB) Gilgamesh. His paper discussed the use of economic considerations in the interpretation of ancient texts. Abnormally interesting stuff.
In part because of some amazing animation and in part because of its intellectual content, Thomas Levy’s presentation, “Recent Iron Age Archaeological Data from the Assyrian Periphery – New Insights from the Faynan Copper Ore District, Jordan” engendered the most discussion. But despite the title, Levy told us that there really isn’t any direct evidence for Assyrian activity in the Faynan Copper Ore District. So much for Neo-Assyrian insights. The bottom line, there is evidence for rather large scale copper smelting in the Faynan region of Jordon from at least late Bronze Age and continuing well into the Iron Age. That means there is evidence of copper smelting in the 10th century BCE. Does this also mean that Levy’s work supports Biblical claims concerning Solomon’s mines? Not necessarily. But it sure raises the possibility.
And then there was some bloody dusty guy who worried about a methodological question concerning echoes of Akkadian literature and culture in the Hebrew Bible. The example he used was from a Babylonian, not Assyrian, ritual. Should you have nothing better to do for a few minutes you can read those remarks. I was quite happy with the response. Chris Hays directed me to one of his papers that dealt with the same topic. I’m a little embarrassed that I wasn’t aware of Chris’ paper. While I don’t think it would have alleviated my concerns, I would have structured my remarks in a somewhat different way. Chris’ paper is “Echoes of the Ancient Near East? Intertextuality and the Comparative Study of the Old Testament,” in The Word Leaps the Gap: essays on Scripture and theology in honor of Richard B. Hays, J. Ross Wagner, C. Kavin Rowe and A. Katherine Grieb eds (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2008), 20-43. Now that sure sounds like something I should have known about. One of the reasons I try to present at these events is to mitigate the isolation that is part of being an amateur. I appreciate the ability to interact with and learn from the professionals. While this time that opportunity was shorter and bloodier than I would have liked, I did enjoy it.