I went to a couple of interesting sessions at the SBL today - the first was the morning session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section, which was a book review session. The first book reviewed was Peter Schäfer's The Origins of Jewish Mysticism. James Davila and Seth Sanders both spoke about it. I was supposed to be one of the reviewers, but I was really over-committed this semester and thus was unable to complete my review. I will, however, be writing a review to be published sometime next year. They both brought up interesting critical points - you can read all of Jim's review at his blog, PaleoJudaica (there's a link to a PDF of the review). Jim's critique focused on the lack of attention given by Schäfer to the ritual, instructional character of the Hekhalot texts, which he thinks is the way we should be reading them, rather than getting involved in the old fight over whether the texts describe mystical experiences or are literary, exegetical texts. Seth's reading focused on another point raised by Schäfer, on how the biblical book of Ezekiel should be understood - again, not as giving us access to the supposed ecstatic experience of Ezekiel which provides the basis of the book, but to certain linguistic features ("the hand of the Lord" upon Ezekiel) that indicate a pragmatic effect upon Ezekiel. I hope that Seth will say more about his interpretation on his blog, Serving the Word.
The second part of the EJCM session was a review of another book, The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle, by Guy Williams. Charles Gieschen reviewed the book, and Williams responded.
This afternoon I went to a session of the Qur'an and Biblical Literature Section. I missed the first talk, by Herb Berg, on "Islamic origins and the nature of the early sources," but was there for the other papers, by Stephen Shoemaker, Vernon Robbins, Devin Stewart, and Gordon Newby, which were all very interesting. This is by no means my field, but I am very interested in it, especially the way in which the Qur'an takes up earlier Jewish and Christian traditions (biblical as well as post-biblical) and re-uses/re-fashions them for its own theological/rhetorical agenda. Since I don't know Arabic, it's not going to be an area that I can do my own academic research in, but I like to follow what others are doing. If I have time I'll write more about each paper.
I'm now going to seize the moment and go to the book display. Tomorrow morning is another session of the EJCM, and tomorrow night there is a reception for Rachel Elior, with presentation of a festschrift to her.