The CLBSJ at SBL

Matthew Johnstone

In an inter-session lull here for me at the Society for Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion annual meeting at McCormick Place in Chicago, I thought I’d give you a brief rundown of my experiences in the last few days.

On Saturday morning, Dr. Matthew Coomber of St. Ambrose University presented on the concept of debt as a weapon used against the impoverished in Ancient Near Eastern Societies. This entire consultation was extremely useful and germane, tying biblical themes and language in Isaiah 5, Micah 2, Amos 2, and Deuteronomy 15 to the present debt crisis. It might astonish some Occupy activists and other debt warriors (though likely not, based on one group’s name, Rolling Jubilee) how useful these prophetic and legal texts might be in their battle against weaponized debt in the modern era.

On Sunday morning, when decent folks were in church, I was at a consultation on Joshua and Judges and Political Theory. Dr. Dan Hawk read a paper on the way in which themes from Joshua undergird the Western expansion of the US. The impacts of this mis-use of Scripture are still keenly felt, ecologically, socially, and economically.

And in the afternoon, Ched Myers gave a brilliant presentation on the Cedars of Lebanon, their imperial application and mis-application in Isaiah and other prophetic and historical texts, and the devastating ecological effects of their sustained logging. This paired brilliantly with a paper by Dr. Ellen Davis on similar themes as it concerned the ocean, particularly the Roman hubris of ocean conquest - which had direct impacts on those same cedar forests, gone to build Roman and Phoenician triremes.

So what then? After a sustained period of mental and emotional activity (with a few more sessions yet to come today), what’s the takeaway?

For me, as someone who would consider himself still an activist-in-training, these sorts of events mostly engender in me a particular kind of hunger. I desperately want, now, to get MOVING - to find the places in my region and home that are in most desperate need of justice advocates and fellow-workers, and get to work. Particularly in Ched and Matthew’s talks, I am inspired to find some particular things that I can d0 - even such small steps as planting trees and refusing to commit myself to the debt economy in my own community.

I’ll talk more in the next few weeks about some of the longer-term impact of some of these presentations - for now, I challenge you all to think, to read, to listen, and to question. Much that we assume as the “way of the world” is a human construct - one that we, as servants of the God of Scripture, are bound to criticize and resist.