UP hosts major international conference on biblical literature

Posted on July 25, 2023

The University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted the USA-based Society of Biblical Literature’s annual International Meeting.

The conference drew 320 delegates from 43 countries, who attended numerous meetings, seminars, presentations, lectures, discussions and more at various venues on the University of Pretoria’s Hatfield Campus.

Three UP departments – the Department of Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures and the Department of New Testament and Related Literature from the Faculty of Theology and Religion, as well as the Department of Ancient and Modern Languages and Cultures from the Faculty of Humanities – co-hosted the meeting, which was held earlier this month.

Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines. As an international organisation, the society strives to advance the academic study of biblical texts, their contexts, and the interpretation of the Bible and its many traditions and contexts. The SBL also promotes comparative studies which focus on other culturally central and religious texts.

Click on the image below for more images from the event

The conference drew 320 delegates from 43 countries, who attended numerous meetings, seminars, presentations, lectures, discussions and more at various venues on the University of Pretoria’s Hatfield Campus.

The week-long International Meeting was launched with a Welcome Ceremony in the Musaion Theatre. Delegates were welcomed by programme director Professor Alphonso Groenewald, Professor of Old Testament Studies at UP, who said, “This meeting is indeed a historic moment, as it is only the second time in the history of the SBL as an organisation that its International Meeting is hosted in South Africa. The first SBL International Meeting on African soil was held in 2000 at the University of Cape Town.”

The 320 delegates included biblical scholars, officials from the SBL organisation, as well as book exhibitors representing different national and international publishing houses. “This conference was thus an excellent opportunity for internationalisation, as hundreds of esteemed and renowned national and international scholars attended and participated,” Prof Groenewald said.

“Delegates attended this meeting because they all share one common endeavour, namely to gain more insights into, as well as debate, their respective interpretations of ancient religious texts. These interpretations are based on long traditions, but are also informed by the context in which all of them are grounded. This diversity contributes to the success of an international conference with this stature. Delegates had the opportunity to learn from one another as they rigorously debated and engaged with different interpretations of ancient religious texts.”

Professor Steed Davidson, chief executive of the SBL, emphasised that this international meeting was an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the legacies of biblical texts and other religious texts, in a particular location. “The conference gave attendees the opportunity to reflect again the diverse ways in which knowledge, including biblical knowledge, is now produced and consumed,” he said. “During this conference delegates were reminded of the role different readings of the Bible had – and still have – in the authentication as well as confrontation of political power.” He said this gathering on the African continent presented an opportunity to all the international visitors to look more deeply into the contributions of South African and African scholars to biblical knowledge. Even more exciting for this meeting were the opportunities to look inside of and expand the growing body of biblical scholarship being generated on the African continent.

The Tuks Camerata Choir performed several pieces during the opening ceremony, with many in the audience praising the choir as an outstanding ambassador of the University of Pretoria’s rich cultural life and its presentation of the cultural mosaic that is South Africa.

- Author Alphonso Groenewald and Dana Mahan

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