Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS) and International Society of Biblical Literature (ISBL) Report

“…biblical studies can be creative, non-exhaustive and interesting.”
– by Dr. Ezra Kok

The Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS) and the International Society of Biblical Literature (ISBL) met jointly in Seoul, South Korea on 2-7 July 2016. The SABS held a pre-ISBL one-day seminar on 2 July at Methodist Theological University. The SABS meeting began with the Presidential Address by Dr. Elaine M. Wainwright on “Attending to Moving Margins – in Text and Con-text – Matthew 15:21-28 Yet Again,” followed by the Keynote Address by Professor Kyung Sook Lee on “Wandering in the Wilderness: Asian Biblical Studies.” Six different sessions were later held in the afternoon. At the Business Meeting, Dr Monica Melanchthon was elected the new President, while Dr. Layang Seng Ja from Myanmar was elected into the Executive Committee.

From 3-7 July, the ISBL sessions were held at the vast and beautiful Yonsei University. This was the second time the International SBL Meeting was held in Asia. The first was hosted by Trinity Theological College, Singapore, in 2005. The theme of the 2016 ISBL was “Crossing Borders: Biblical Studies from the Four Corners of the World.” The opening session consisted of five presentations by Professors Fernando Segovia, Yeong Mee Lee, Athalya Brenner, Gerald O. West, and Uriah Yonghwan Kim. This perspective of the presentations set the tone for many of the papers and discussion in the following days.

The ATESEA participants at SABS and ISBL are especially thankful to the Foundation for Theological Education for funding five scholars, including myself. Dr. Elaine Goh Wei-Fun presided over two sessions on contextual readings of the Old Testament, namely, “Reading the Texts in Context” and “Rereading Ecclesiastes.” Dr. Lim Kar-Yong, as co-chair of the Paul and Pauline Literature Section, presided over a session and presented a paper on “You are the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27): Metaphor and Social Identity Formation.” Dr. Asigor Sitanggang presented a paper entitled “Daughter of Jairus and Chronic Bleeding Woman (Mark 5:21-43): Markan Liberating Salvation.” As a panellist on the topic of “Marginal Mappers, Eternal Outsiders: 25 Years of Voices from the Margins,” Dr. Layang Seng Ja shared on the development in Myanmar and presented another paper on “The Struggles of the Kachin Jesus in the Context of Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD Party’s Victory in Myanmar.” I participated on the panel of “What is Going On? The State of Biblical Scholarship in My Country in Asia,” during which I presented an update on the state of scholarship in Malaysia, which highlighted the dearth of seminary lecturers in Malaysia holding doctorates.

Overall, the sessions proved to be a valuable learning experience. There are obviously many methods of biblical interpretation, which can be presented in various ways. SABS and ISBL managed to encourage intense discussion among biblical scholars from far and wide and from different traditions and theological persuasions. Echoing Dr. Elaine Goh, we participated in this conference and learned that biblical studies can be creative, non-exhaustive and interesting. New insights in contextual reading could surely be gained. We were amazed by how scholars, East and West, North and South, handled the biblical texts skilfully and responsibly.

What did we find interesting? (1) The SABS played an active role in many of the sessions. A number of Asian scholars, particularly from India, presented their papers. Many SABS sessions were well attended. (2) The international flavour was really stimulating: we were able to listen to papers, engage with scholars of different theological persuasions, catch up with old friends, and forge connections with new ones. (3) There was a strong push for contextual readings that could “decentre” the biblical text. However, in many instances, scholars argued for a more balanced and inclusive reading. These different opinions challenged all of us to engage with one another. (4) A greater awareness and appreciation for our different social contexts. This experience in South Korea helped us to better understand the riches of God’s Word, especially as we read from different contexts, whether social, economic, political, ethnic, gender, etc. We hope these broadened perspectives will not only enrich our reading of the Bible, but also enable us to teach the Bible more clearly, faithfully and relevantly.

Looking to the future, the next SABS meeting will be held in East Java, Indonesia in 2018. Dates are yet to be confirmed. The International SBL Meeting for 2019 will be held at the United Theological College in Bangalore, India on 22-26 July. We eagerly anticipate having many more Asian scholars participate in the events!

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