The Papers Presented at the Society for Old Testament Study

As promised, here is a brief overview of some papers presented at the SOTS conference that I attended last week. It is all new to me, so please be aware that I may have misunderstood some of the points being made, but these are the main highlights from my point of view. [I will add my own thoughts in square brackets.]

Moritz Adam: Ecclesiates

Moritz thought that Ecclesiates was well-introduced by the book of Proverbs. Solomon is sometimes linked to Christ, in an attempt to understand the books (though obviously this adds a whole layer of later history). Solomon is alluded to, but not named, possibly to widen the book’s appeal to later generations. However, the authorship is firmly linked to Solomon, ‘even if Solomon was not an historical figure’. [The scholars presenting papers often added this caveat—I don’t know whether they themselves doubted that Old Testament figures actually existed in history, or if they were ensuring their paper would be accepted whatever the reader’s view.]

There was a lot of discussion about how Ecclesiates potentially had Greek influence, such as the Hellenistic style of linking people with deeds: Moses—Exodus, Solomon—Proverbs. He suggested that the idiosyncrasies in Ecclesiates reflect a Greek style, as Hebrew doesn’t ‘do abstract’ very well. [I took notes, but found all this difficult to grasp as my own knowledge of Greek history is very limited.]

Moritz suggested that themes within the book reflect Greek thought, with no context for the ideas that are presented. He also quoted an Egyptian saying: ‘That which is crooked cannot be made straight.’ [I think this implies some of the thoughts may have come from Egypt, but to be honest, I didn’t really catch that bit!]

One idea that I enjoyed, is that ‘paradise’ is linked to the gardens of Persian courts.

Megan Daffern: Psalms

Megan was considering how the Psalms use self-reflection. [‘Talking to yourself’ in other words.] She said that sometimes this allowed the author to distance himself from the Psalm, and examine what was being presented. Sometimes it is used as a device to reassure oneself, to remind oneself that God offers security.

It was suggested that psychology today uses self-distancing to aid motivation [like when we talk to ourselves, saying we can achieve something].

David Firth: Psalm 40 and Psalm 70

Psalm 70 is basically the same as Psalm 40: 14-18. [I have never noticed this, have you?] David remarked that the Masorites [the scribes who added vowels and punctuation to the Hebrew texts] added a title to Psalm 70. Apparently, if a psalm has no title, it was possibly linked to the psalm before. [I didn’t know that, either!]

The paper then considered whether these two psalms were a copy of each other, or if both are original. It’s possible that both are included in the collection of psalms because they are very similar. Or, one may have been altered to be like the other.

The Hebrew word: ישב is a common verb in psalms 69, 70 and 71, which is some evidence that psalm 70 stands alone, and is not just an extract from psalm 40.

[Personally, I suspect that someone was feeling a bit desperate, read the extract in psalm 40 and wrote it out as it fitted his mood. He tweaked it a bit, and this then became part of the collection of psalms, because people liked it. But obviously I have no evidence for this.]

Kirsi Cobb: ‘Using Fiction to Fill the Gaps’

I hoped that this paper would be about how fiction writers can aid understanding by writing stories based on Bible narratives. But it wasn’t. The paper was basically a slating of a fictional book, stating that the concepts are badly presented. The whole paper made me furious, especially as at times it seemed to be a personal ridiculing of the author of the book being reviewed. There is a lot I can say, but I will leave it there.

[After the seminar, I remarked on the apparent personal attack, and I was told that this is normal. Scholars consider each other fair game for insults, and they don’t consider politeness to be a virtue when reviewing each other’s work. I hope I am never like this. Whilst I admire their brains, I did not always admire their manners.]

Paul Joyce: Inappropriate Optimism

This paper considered the unrealistic optimism that was presented by the false prophets, such as in Jeremiah. It discussed optimism as a cognitive illusion, and suggested that people tend to ignore evidence and lean towards optimism. [I feel I should introduce him to some of my family, as this seems very much a generalisation to me.]

He did note that biblical criticism and psychology share similar concepts, which I found interesting.

There are two other papers that I really want to tell you about. One was about covenants (you will never look at a rainbow in the same way again) and one was about whether the Hebrew Bible presents monotheism (there is only one single God). I will write about them in other blogs.

As you can see, most of the papers were full of information and ideas, and even though I am not as scholarly as most of the audience, it was extremely interesting. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Have a good rest of the week, and take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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5 thoughts on “The Papers Presented at the Society for Old Testament Study

  1. Thank you for sharing the highlights from the Society for Old Testament Study conference. It sounds like the presentations covered a wide range of topics and offered a variety of insights into the Bible and its interpretation.

    It is unfortunate that the presentation on “Using Fiction to Fill the Gaps” was not as relevant as you had hoped and that it seemed to be a personal attack on the author of the book being reviewed. It is important for scholars to engage in respectful and constructive criticism, rather than resorting to personal attacks.


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