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Presidential Voices: The Society of Biblical Literature in the Twentieth Century
Harold W Attridge, James C Vanderkam, editors
Publication Date
November 2006


Since late in the nineteenth century, a nearly constant element in the program for the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (and Exegesis) has been the lecture delivered by the president whose term concludes with that meeting. These presidential addresses have not only provided defining moments for biblical studies as a practice and a profession but also, read together, reveal the growth and development that the Society has experienced since its founding in 1880. The addresses included in this volume, for example, show how a dominant focus on interpreting biblical texts “historically” gave way to a greater appreciation of those texts as literature to an increased recognition of the role the interpreter plays in shaping the “meaning” of any text. One also observes in this documentary history the shift from parochialism to a more inclusive view of biblical studies, a change in focus from narrow theological concerns to broader social concerns, and the gradual erosion of positivistic assumptions about the objectivity of the interpretive process. The twenty-three presidential addresses collected here thus give readers direct access to some of the key moments and broader trends within the history of the SBL.

Harold W. Attridge is Dean of the Yale Divinity School and the Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. In addition to serving as SBL president in 2001, he has authored and edited numerous works, including Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fortress) and Psalms in Community (co-edited with Margot Fassler; Society of Biblical Literature).

James C. VanderKam is John A. O’Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame and the current editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature. In addition to editing volumes in the DJD series, he has authored, among others, An Introduction to Early Judaism (Eerdmans) and From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Augsburg Fortress).

“The editors have selected these 23 SBL presidential addresses so as to tell ‘the “story” of the Society of Biblical Literature through the words of our presidents’ and to illustrate ‘the growth, development, and expansion of the Society of Biblical Literature over the past 125 years’. Some of the essays are well-known scholarly landmarks, and almost all are still worth pondering. Quite apart from illuminating the SBL, they offer a more-than-usually accessible window on to the overall nature and development of biblical scholarship in the twentieth century.”
— R. W. L. Moberly, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

“This volume is a fascinating selection of presidential addresses to the SBL, founded in 1880. Twenty-three of these addresses have been selected by Attridge and Vanderkam as particularly noteworthy performances of a president’s technical sophistication or his (and, in two cases, her) general vision for the field. Worth the price of the volume is the appendix listing titles of all of the additional addresses not included here, most of which are available in the archives of JBL. These intriguing speeches clearly indicate our need for further analysis of the social and institutional history of academic biblical studies and her guild associations. No doubt many of our own professional conundrums—among them our relation to the general study of ‘religion’, the shifting valence of ‘theology’ and ‘history’, and the distinctions between North American biblical scholarship and that of Europe and the UK (not to mention elsewhere)—will appear differently in light of such reflection.”
— Ward Blanton, Journal for the Study of the New Testament


The Historical Element in the New Testament (1895)
—J. Henry Thayer

Present Tasks of American Biblical Scholarship (1919)
—James A. Montgomery

Our Own Future: Forecast and a Programme (1923)
—Max L. Margolis

Motives of Biblical Scholarship (1936)
—Henry J. Cadbury

The Ancient Near East and the Religion of Israel (1939)
—W. F. Albright

The Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis (1941)
—Julian Morgenstern

The Future of Biblical Studies (1945)
—Morton S. Enslin

Scholars, Theologians, and Ancient Rhetoric (1955)
—Amos N. Wilder

The Dead Sea Discoveries: Retrospect and Challenge (1956)
—J. Philip Hyatt

Parallelomania (1961)
—Samuel Sandmel

Form Criticism and Beyond (1968)
—James Muilenburg

Whither Biblical Research? (1970)
—Harry M. Orlinsky

A Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration (1974)
—Frank Moore Cross

The Watershed of the American Biblical Tradition: The Chicago School, First Phase, 1892–1920 (1975)
—Robert W. Funk

“Other Sheep Not of This Fold”: The Johannine Perspective on Christian Diversity in the Late First Century (1977)
—Raymond E. Brown

The Bible as a Classic and the Bible as Holy Scripture (1983)
—Krister Stendahl

The Ethics of Biblical Interpretation: Decentering Biblical Scholarship (1987)
—Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

The Eighth, the Greatest of Centuries? (1988)
—Philip J. King

At the Mercy of Babylon: A Subversive Rereading of the Empire (1990)
—Walter Brueggemann

Jesus the Victim (1991)
—Helmut Koester

Social Class as an Analytic and Hermeneutical Category in Biblical Studies (1992)
—Norman K. Gottwald

Antiquity and Christianity (1997)
—Hans Dieter Betz

Catholic or catholic? Biblical scholarship at the Center (2005)
—Carolyn Osiek

Appendix 1: SBL Presidents and Presidential Addresses

Appendix 2: Editors of the Journal of Biblical Literature