22 December 2008

AJS (Association of Jewish Studies) Conference Today

After having gotten back from the wedding I attended yesterday, I spent the evening at home, prior to departing after midnight for DC, where I arrived this morning for day 2 of the annual AJS conference. When I arrived, I went down to the area where the conference was occurring, except that I was on the early side. However, I spotted to men putting on tallis and tefillin, so I joined them, but found the room to be crowded, plus they were fairly far along in the service, so I prayed in a nearby room.
Afterwards, I chatted with several people, prior to attending the first session. For the first session, I went to the one entitled "A Fearful Assymetry? Interpreting the Bible in Jewish
Sources". The first paper was supposed to be delivered by Michael Fishbane, but he was unable to attend. The first paper that was delivered was by Diana Lipton on "What's in a Name? The Biblical Background of a Talmudic Martyrdom", in which Lipton connected the martyrdom of Haninah ben Tradyon to what went on in Jeremiah. The second paper presented was by Meira Polliack, entitled "The Medieval Discovery of Biblical Narrative", wherein she spoke of the rise of literacy causing people to go back into the Bible and understand it on its own terms, focusing on the work of Yefet ben 'Eli. The third paper was delivered by Mordechai Z. Cohen on "Resolving a Conundrum: Pinning Down Maimonides' Elusive Construal Of the Maxim 'Scripture does not leave the hands of
its Peshat'", which was an excellent presentation. There is a curiosity of Maimonides' usage of the term פשטיה דקרא - basically, when one has already read Rashi's understanding of this phrase and then read this phrase in the Hebrew translation, one is not fully clear how Mainonides is using it. However, Cohen submitted that one should read Maimonides in the original (Judeo-Arabic) because sometimes he uses a different term, indicating obvious or apparent in contradistinction to when he uses peshat in a technical sense. Additionally, it is important to consider Maimonides' cultural context: what Sa'adia Gaon had written and the Islamic jurisprudence.
After the first session, there was schmoozing time (in which I got to meet and talk with Joseph Davis, author of an excellent article, "The Reception of the Shulhan ‘Arukh and the Formation of Ashkenazic Jewish Identity", AJS Review 26 [2002]: 251-276), and then the second session began.
For the second session, I attended the "Hellenistic Jewish Interpretations and Narratives" one. Having lost track of time in schmoozing, I arrived during the presentation of the first paper, "'Joseph and Aseneth': A Very Early Jewish-Hellenistic Romance", was delivered by René Bloch, in which Bloch argued for the book's dating to be during the Ptolemaic period, sometime between 100 BCE and 100 CE. The next paper, "At the Beginning: The Septuagint as a Jewish Bible Translation",
presented by Leonard J. Greenspoon, who spoke about Jewish Bible translations looking back to the Septuagint, which was the first of them all. Next up was Louis Feldman, who spoke upon "The Death of Moses according to Josephus", wherein he said that Josephus "emphasizes his humanity", so that Moses not become deified. The last paper in the session, "The Election of Israel in the Wisdom of Ben Sira", was delivered by Greg Schmidt Goering, who argued for understanding what scholars have previously considered to be oppositional dyads (cf. Ben Sira 33.7-15) to actually consider there to be, in truth, triadic constructions. He points out there are comprehensive dyads (e.g. male/female or whole/blemished) versus noncomprehensive dyads (such as wise/foolish and good/evil) and versus triadic constructions (e.g. wise/naïve/foolish or elect/non-elect/anti-elect).
After session #2, there was an hour lunch break, wherein I wandered about, checking out the books on sale as well as chatting and also ate a little (from the food that I brought).
Then session #3 began, with me attending "The Bavli and Its History". The first paper delivered was "Meta-Systemic Concerns as Indicators of Late-Stage Stammaitic Compositions: The Case of bEruvin 95-96", presented by Jay Rovner, whose main point was to show multiple layering of stammaitic voices. Professor Elman asked a good question on this presentation: Was this later layer slightly later (perhaps even at the sa
me time, just perhaps elsewhere) or was it much later? Rovner's response was tentative, suggesting that it was probably much later. Rovner was very articulate and I'm really excited for his paper to be published, for it seems new and important. Also, Rovner said that the later layer of the stam constructs a coherence where it was not there previously. The second paper was delivered by Barry Wimpfheimer, on "The Bavli as Classical Literature: The Argument from Rhetorical Forms". In this paper, he spoke on forms being important in the Talmud Bavli - I hope to expand upon this in a later posting, as it was really great. The third paper delivered was by Kris Lindbeck on "The Bavli's Redaction of Tradition about the Destruction of the Temple". The last paper of the session was by Ari Bergmann on "The Proto-Talmud and the Stam: The Dual Voice of the Talmud", who argued for either Abaye and Rava or students of theirs who organized "the Proto-Talmud" and then later scholars, the stammaim provided a "fluid, dynamic, interpretative layer" to the earlier layer. He had provided lots of data and statistics to show that Rava and Abaye were in a lot of the Talmud (although, to be frank, that doesn't necessarily prove that they were the first redactionary layer, but I digress).
After a brief break (in which there was more schmoozing and I davened minhah), I then attended the fourth and last session of the day. I went to another Talmudically-related session, "Rabbis and Their Cultural Context(s)". The first paper was "An Iranian Hell in the Babylonian Talmud", presented by Shai Secunda, in which Secunda argued that images of hell and punishment in both Talmudic and Zoroastrian depictions were adapted from Palestinian images. The next paper, "Reishit ha-Bekhorah: Firstborn Inheritance from Mesopotamia to the Mishnah", was presented by Jonathan Milgram. The following paper, "Torah in Triclinia: The Architecture and Iconography of Banquet Halls in Rabbinic Practice and Imagination", was not presented, as it's presenter, Gil Klein, was not here. The last paper presented was "'For the Lord Your God Moves in the Midst of Your Camp': Concentration and Diffusion of the Divine in Qumran and Rabbinic Ritual", presented by Yehuda Septimus.
Following the session, I then stopped into a little reception and schmoozed a little. And that was it for the day and I look forward to tomorrow's sessions.

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