Today was another pleasant day at the SBL. I went to the morning session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section, and heard papers on merkabah elements in early Christian writings (Ascension of Isaiah and Hebrews), as well as a review of the new book by Bogdan Bucur, Angelomorphic Pneumatology: Clement of Alexandria and Other Early Christian Witnesses.
In the afternoon, in lieu of going to sessions, I went to the book display and got several expensive books from European publishers - Mohr Siebeck and Brill. It's still a wonder to me how university presses in the United States still manage to publish scholarly books that cost much less than these excellent European presses. I've published several articles in books from these presses, and their cost is always much too high to recommend to anyone to buy them. I also had a good time talking to a friend of mine about Jewish Studies and especially about the definition of the word "Jew" - at what historical point can we start speaking of "Jews" and not "Israelites"? We agreed between ourselves that the term becomes relevant - to refer to an ethnic-religious group - in the books of the Ezra-Nehemiah, specifically pointing to the returning exiles who go from Babylonia to the Persian sub-province of Yehud after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C.E. Obviously, others disagree, and argue that the term only really becomes meaningful in the time of the Maccabees in the second century B.C.E., or even later in the first century C.E. or afterwards.
In the evening, to the reception for Rachel Elior, to honor her with the presentation of a festschrift, edited by Andrei Orlov and Daphna Arbel, entitled With Letters of Light: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic, and Mysticism. I contributed an article to the volume, "'They revealed secrets to their wives': The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch." The reception began with an introduction by Andrei and Daphna, and continued with greetings and appreciations by the other people attending the evening - many of whom had contributed to the festschrift. Rachel then thanked all of us and talked about how she had gotten interested in the connections between Hekhalot literature and the Qumran texts - when she discovered the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice in 1987 and began to read them together with the Hekhalot hymns. I didn't know the particular story of her learning about the Songs, but I do remember her Hekhalot seminar at the Hebrew University in the 1988-1989 academic year, when we spent quite a long time reading Qumran texts, and focused upon the Sabbath Songs.
After that reception some of us left and went to the JTS reception, which was marked by the presence of good kosher food - and plenty of it! (Always an important consideration at these convention receptions).
Tomorrow morning I'm heading back to Ithaca, and won't be going to any other SBL sessions, unfortunately. This has proven to be an enjoyable conference.