As Tim Bulkeley indicated, quite a number of presenters didn’t arrive. One of the major disappointments for me was that Jon Ma Asgeirsson was unwell and unable to get here from Iceland to present Constructing Memory of No(-)Thing and the Need for Societal Ethos, both because the paper looked interesting and because I wanted to put a face to his writings. I do hope he recovers quickly. He did, however, let SBL know that he would not be there. Some presenters didn’t bother – they just didn’t arrive.
The other (and therefore the only) paper in that session was Robert McIver from Avondale College, the Adventist theological college in New South Wales, and I was very pleased to have heard it. His topic was Skilled Memory and the Jesus Traditions. I was a bit perplexed when he began because he was presenting research with which I was familiar about the difference between copying and recalling from memory and I then realised that in preparing for my own paper, I had actually read the paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology where he and his colleague, Marie Carroll, had written this research up. It’s well worth reading (McIver, Robert K. and Marie Carroll. “Distinguishing Characteristics of Orally Transmitted Material When Compared to Material Transmitted by Literary Means.” Applied Cognitive Psychology 18, no. 9 (2004): 1251-1269), although apparently he has published something similar in JBL, which may be more accessible to biblical scholars.
He was providing evidence that the kinds of differences in wording between gospel accounts could not be the result of copying errors, but could quite easily be the result of oral transmission. He also suggested that Jesus may well have used some of the techniques employed by rabbis to transmit oral tradition to train his disciples to pass on his teachings. For me, it was one of the best papers at the conference, in the sense of most useful to my research, but also well presented.
Earlier that day, I head a couple of other papers in the same Program Unit (Mind, Society and Tradition). One was by Risto Uro, entitled Ritual and Cooperation: Evolutionary Explanations for Early Christian Rituals, which was somewhat outside my area of expertise, but it was good to be able to put a person to the books that he’s written and edited on Thomas. The second was A Cognitive Perspective on Identity and Behaviour Norms in Ephesians, presented by Rikard Roitto, a PhD student from Sweden. He explained the structure of Ephesians very credibly in terms of beginning by describing the protoypical Christ-believer (the author of the book), to which the Ephesians should aspire, and then advice about what they needed to do in order to get there. I liked the concepts he presented and also enjoyed the notion that Christians might be “clients of God” – said at least partly tongue-in-cheek. The paper after morning tea in that session also sounded interesting, but I had a session booked with my doctoral supervisor, who is now based in New Zealand.
I will try to write more over the next few days, but it appears that I am now the only person awake in the household – I am staying with my brother and his family – which probably means that everyone will be up and enthusiastic quite early tomorrow morning.