Aaron Butts reports on the Society of Biblical Literature conference

I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago, IL on Nov. 17-20, 2012. At this conference, I presented a paper entitled “From Manuscripts to Edition: The Case of the Syriac History of St. Cyriacus and his Mother Julitta.” The paper grew out of an Intermediate Syriac course (SMTC 522) that I taught in Spring of 2012 at Yale, and two of the students from that class were in fact co-authors of the paper (Karen Connor [now at Harvard University] and Daniel Schriever). The collaborative aspect of the paper allowed me to mentor these two graduate students in writing and presenting an academic paper as well as to provide them with direction in the professionalization process that is essential to their development as scholars. 

Our paper was presented in a workshop on Manuscripts from the Eastern Christian Traditions, which aims to familiarize students and scholars, especially those who have not worked with manuscripts before, with manuscript studies within the broader fields of eastern Christianity in any of its languages and literary traditions. Our paper explored important methodological issues with the process of moving from manuscripts to an edition, particularly: What choices are we making when we edit texts? Why are we making these choices? What are their repercussions? If the vibrant discussion after our paper was any indication, this topic continues to be of pressing importance for scholars working in the field of manuscript studies.

 At the conference, I also presided over a panel of the International Syriac Language Project (ISLP) on “Perspectives on Valency in Ancient Language Research.” The papers in this panel explored how valency theory can provide a framework superior to traditional descriptions of verbs in ancient languages, especially Biblical Hebrew. For me, this panel raised questions about how one can best incorporate theoretical linguistic approaches into language description and ultimately language pedagogy.

Over the three days of the conference, I was able to attend a number of other interesting papers on topics ranging from the Arabic version of the New Testament to Ethiopic Biblical Commentaries to new discoveries in Ethiopic manuscripts. One of the most valuable aspects of the conference for me was the opportunity to learn about the newest studies being conducted on the texts and languages that I myself teach and research.

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